Frank recalls the first time his son, Ben, slept soundly through the night. He remembers it because it was the first time in as many months that he slept soundly, too. Only a week before, Frank was wondering if he was doing the right thing, bringing Ben to outpatient surgery for a tonsillectomy. He was somber as he watched his son being wheeled away in an induced sleep to the operating room. Frank’s wife Gayle, a pediatric nurse herself, reassured him. “It’s going to be OK. Actually, better than OK,” she said. Frank’s mother, who had taken up her knitting in the waiting area, peered up from behind her glasses. “Like father, like son,” she said. “I never regretted your tonsils being removed and I promise you, you won’t either.” Even with his wife’s medical insight, his mother’s endorsement, and their doctor’s recommendation, Frank still felt uneasy. Ben was a baby, but his constant strep diagnoses, upper respiratory infections, restless nights, and recurring prescriptions of antibiotics made it clear to Frank that something had to be done. Still, could frequent tonsillitis indicate the need for a tonsillectomy?
When the surgeon completed the procedure, he walked toward the family, signaling thumbs up, but adding that, “In all my years, this was one of the worst cases of tonsillitis I have ever encountered. Ben’s tonsils practically disintegrated in my hands,” he noted.
What are Tonsils?
Located in the back of your throat, tonsils are part of your immune system that fight infection and serve as the first defense against strep. When the tonsils are functioning well, they swell up and you get a sore throat. Some people, however, suffer from chronic sore throats and strep, and that’s when their tonsils are seen “kissing,” meaning that they have become so enlarged that they actually touch. That’s usually when doctors revert to antibiotics. Penicillin nearly always is effective, but then the question comes into play, as Frank wondered, when is it time to stop relying on prescription medication and go for a surgical option?
The good news is that most children whose parents opt against a tonsillectomy do either find relief with penicillin, and often outgrow their constant infections. However, adults, may find themselves getting their tonsils out if it gets to the point that they have to rely on antibiotics as part of their basic food groups to combat chronic strep.
For the parents of children who are considering a tonsillectomy, it is best to weigh the positives with the (possible) negatives. (Note: the same holds true for adults.)
- If your child is allergic to antibiotics, a tonsillectomy would be an effective means of ridding chronic infections without subjecting them to allergic reactions.
- If your child is so miserable that they can’t eat, sleep, or enjoy play, then maybe consider a tonsillectomy.
- If you are worried that your child may become resistant to antibiotics (although resistance to penicillin is unlikely), then consider a tonsillectomy.
- If the tonsils become so enlarged that they obstruct the airways, consider a tonsillectomy, especially if they have been diagnosed of if you notice that they have signs of sleep apnea.
Bottom line: while tonsillectomies are probably the most common of all pediatric surgeries, as with any surgery, there are always risks. Even though it is considered minor surgery, there will still be anesthesia used as well as rare but possible bleeding afterwards.
If your child suffers from chronic strep or tonsillitis, the medical professionals at Children’s Health Care of Massachusetts (CHC Mass) can help you determine what is the best course of action for your child. Contact your preferred CHC location in Newburyport or Haverhill to schedule a comprehensive health consultation so you – and your child – can sleep soundly at night.